Vol 11, Issue 6
Recently a friend of mine, when discussing his recent non law grad job salary lackadaisically told me, “no one gets into law for the money.” This was news to me, as my own journey to MLS began when I spoke with the head of my Arts discipline school about job prospects. It was not a happy conversation, so I decided to aim for the top. By “top” I meant both intellectually and fiscally. I was, and still am, about getting paid.
Law is still one of, if not the, highest paid profession on average. This is because of a number of factors, one being that we have very stringent definitions on what a profession is. A top tier lawyer here may earn close to 2 million a year. By contrast, a neurosurgeon makes around 600k. However, the stock trader makes near one million at work and can double it leveraging his professional expertise to a private portfolio, which goes beyond what we understand as a profession.
And yet, comparing Melbourne Law School to its academic peers in the United States and the UK, it would seem we as students, get a raw deal. A top tier lawyer in the US makes 160k as a grad, their equivalent to clerkships pay near 30 thousand for the Summer so why stay here? Ask partners at Aussie firms and they'll tell you the Yanks work you to the bone.
But by that logic, why work in law at all? These same partners have urged me not to do law as it took their lives. Yet they live in ornate houses and never think about money. They are tired, but financially secure. I'm forced to ask myself: don't I want that too?
In actuality, lawyers are three times more depressed than the general population. I don't need to tell you that the work life balance is fucked. A 2008-2009 Gallup survey of over 400,000 Americans found that a salary of $75,000 a year was where happiness peaked, no extra dollars added to happiness. Transferring this to an Australian context and adjusting for inflation and purchasing power, I calculate this to be about $110,000 in AUD or Dollarydoos. All those zeroes, it looks like a fairly large number, certainly out of reach of lot of people, but not necessarily rare in the economy. There are lots of places that will pay an adequately skilled person this amount of money, including plenty of non corporate law jobs and certainly plenty of smaller firms. With a good deal of work, you can make that at the ATO, which recently rallied against the notion of having to work past 4:51PM. Your lecturer would be earning near that amount, senior lectures certainly do in Undergrad.
I now hear calls of mortgages, rising childcare costs and an all ords that have stagnated over the last few years. Students, barely into the working world are already sweating at the idea that their parents had a house at this age. I can empathise with this view, I certainly feel that myself. But let me offer a counter argument: what good is a house if you spend no time in it? Why send your child to private schools when literature suggests they don't add much value. Going by Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs you can afford food, shelter, a social life and maybe even tuck something away for self actualisation once you hit that $110,000 dollar mark.
Certainly, you can't expect to get there straight away. Short of being drafted into the NBA, I won't start on six figures. But once you achieve and surpass that pay packet, science suggests you won't necessarily feel happier. There are other avenues to happiness, respect in one's community, or to success. Feel free to pick your poison.
That's not to say corporate law is all bad. If you like finance, if you're interested in being an essential link in the economy, then it may be for you. The stringent entry requirements based largely on grades weighted by institution also lead to a particular type of person getting to those positions. Disregarding correlations of upbringing, politics, race or gender, one can be assured this person in smart. I for one, like to be around smart people. The point of this article isn't to dissuade you from the corporate grind, but rather to reassure all students not to sweat the small stuff, including, but not limited to, the zeroes in your bank account.
Nick Parry-Jones is a third-year JD student
More articles by this author
The rest of this issue